PUC Rate Increases Investigated

Ombudsman confirms investigation is underway.

By Molokai Dispatch Staff

At least two formal complaints have lead to an investigation by the Office of the Ombudsman into the recent water rate hikes approved by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC). The hike will affect as many as 1,200 west and central Molokai residents.

Last Wednesday Robin Matsunaga of the Hawaii Ombudsman’s office, who is leading the investigation, held an informational meeting on Molokai for residents to learn about the purpose and procedures of the department.

Matsunaga also addressed a complaint filed last week by an unnamed Molokai resident that sparked the investigation of the PUC’s activities and policies.

Water rights activist Walter Ritte formally handed in his own letter of complaint against the PUC for the water rate increases, and included the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA) in the complaint. The DCCA has set a state cap of 25% on utility rate increases but did not take action against PUC in this case. Ritte also volunteered to provide the Ombudsman with any information the community has concerning the PUC increases to aid in the investigation.

A time frame for the investigation was not given because Matsunaga said he wanted to insure that a thorough investigation is completed before results are released. He explained that in addition, these results may only be released by the Ombudsman directly to the complainants, a constraint placed on them by law to protect the rights of all parties involved.

The office of the Ombudsman is part of the legislative branch in place to independently investigate complaints against executive branch agencies. While the Ombudsman remains a neutral party in situations of conflict, they can, if the complaint proves to be substantiated, attempt to resolve the issue with the agency.

According to the Ombudsman’s office, their function is to “determine whether a complaint is substantiated by comparing an agency’s actions against what the law requires as well as the principles of sound, fair, and reasonable administrative practice.”

Funding for investigations comes from the legislative budget, and findings of office analysts are reviewed both by Matsunaga and by his deputy.

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